Step Right Up and Beat the Mets

I was talking with my Meet Me at Musial cohost Allen Medlock before this series started and I said it might be an indicator that things are different under the new coaching staff (well, another indicator) if they were able to come out and beat a struggling Jason Vargas in the first game of the series against the New York Mets.  Because, as we all know, in the past they would lose to the guy that was having trouble getting out of the first and then would come out and beat the Mets’ aces.

Well, Jacob deGrom didn’t wind up pitching in the series due to his elbow, the discomfort of which was enough to send him to the disabled list, but otherwise the Cardinals stuck to their old ways.  Lose to the guy with the double-digit ERA.  Beat the god of thunder.  However, you don’t have to win them all, you just want to win series and that’s exactly what the Cardinals did.  They don’t give you degree of difficulty points, nor do they take them away.  So we’ll take the series win and (by percentage points) second spot in the Central and be glad of it.

I’m going to be upfront with you, folks–I barely saw any of this series.  With various Easter events going on, I was limited to hearing an inning or two here and there on the radio and watching a little bit of Friday’s game after we’d recorded Musial.  However, I feel confident that you won’t be able to tell in my analysis, because it usually sounds like I’ve not seen the games or, perhaps, any baseball game ever.

Friday (5-4 loss)

Hero: Jose Martinez.  With Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill on the injured list, Cafecito is getting some regular playing time and is doing a lot with it.  In this one, he had three hits, including a home run in the fourth that started the scoring.  He also kept the game alive in the ninth, singling with two outs to put runners on the corners with two outs, only to see Yadier Molina‘s ball carry a bit too far and be caught for the last out.

Martinez’s surge–along with Dexter Fowler, who had two hits and two walks in this one–starts to raise the question of how the outfield is going to look once Bader and O’Neill are deemed healthy enough to go.  The guys on Bird Law talked about how they would leave Fowler in center even when Bader returned, which was an interesting concept that has some merit.  With Bader hitting .179, it’s possible that he could be a defensive replacement for a while as Mike Shildt rides the hot hands that are out there.  Whatever happens, it’s good to see Martinez, Fowler, and Marcell Ozuna all contributing.

Goat: There are a couple of folks that could have gotten this tag.  I’m going to go with Marcell Ozuna, but it could easily be Paul DeJong and maybe Kolten Wong.  All of these folks went 0-for-the-night, though they all drew a walk somewhere along the way.  In fact, Ozuna’s walk almost was going to be the tiebreaker, as he drew it with two outs in the ninth and helped start a potential rally.  However, the fifth inning decided it for me.

Matt Carpenter doubled to lead off the inning and Paul Goldschmidt singled, putting runners on the corners with nobody out.  DeJong grounded out, but it was productive in the fact that it moved Goldschmidt to second.  A base hit would drive in two, but at least if Ozuna put the ball in play, especially in the air, he was probably going to get a run in.  Given that was the final deficit, it could have been huge, but Ozuna struck out.  Martinez followed with a strikeout and the threat was extinguished.

Notes: Usually Adam Wainwright at home is a good call.  Even at his worst, he usually had some magic for the home crew and given he was coming off a pair of solid outings, expectations were fairly high for this start.  Instead, he pitched just three innings, giving up eight hits and three walks.  He had some defensive miscues behind him and one of the four runs he allowed was unearned, but that really hurts when the bullpen has been stretched thin as of late.  That’s the facts of life with Wainwright now, though.  You take the good, you take the bad.  He’s in the Forrest Gump stage of his career where you never know what you are going to get.

The bullpen, though, was stellar.  The only blemish was Ryan Helsley allowing a home run to Pete Alonso, which actually wound up being the winning margin even though at the time it just made it 5-1.  Helsley and five others combined for three hits, one run, two walks, and five strikeouts over the six innings.  Just another indication of how strong this bullpen is right now.  The only concern with those arms is overuse, which is a serious one when the starters don’t get deeper than six innings.  Thankfully things were a bit different the next day.

Besides those already mentioned, Carpenter had two hits.  Yadier Molina had a hit but he stranded three and hit into a double play.  The offense was there in this one, just concentrated into a couple of people.  Scoring four runs isn’t a bad day at the ballpark but it could have been so much more.

Saturday (10-2 win)

Hero: Miles Mikolas.  For the first time this season, the Cardinals got to see the Mikolas they saw last year and the one they gave the extension to this spring.  Mikolas went eight innings, easily the longest outing by a starter all year long, and allowed just four hits, two walks, and two runs.  Oh, and he also went 1-3 with two RBI, so he drove in as many as he allowed.  There’s been some concern Mikolas wouldn’t reach the standard he set last year and he may not–that was a high bar–but Saturday showed that there’s hope we’ll see him get close.

Goat: Tough day for Dexter Fowler.  After being on base all the time Friday, he went 0-4 in this one, leaving four on base.  Thankfully, the rest of the team covered well enough for him that it didn’t make an impact on the scoreboard.

Notes: It was another big day for Jose Martinez, again banging out three hits including a two-run double in the sixth.  After a slow start, he’s definitely found his groove and it’s going to be very difficult to sit him back on the bench again.

Marcell Ozuna went 0-1 but walked three times, scored three times, and stole a base to boot.  Ozuna seems to be feeling good and having a lot of fun right now.  He’s also moved up the scale from “he’s gone at the end of the season, no big loss” to “we’ll miss Ozuna when he isn’t here next year”.  I still have trouble seeing them re-signing him (and as a Scott Boras client, he’s not likely to sign an extension) but he’s at least making an impact and that’s more than we’d seen previously.

Paul DeJong had two hits and Paul Goldschmidt tied Ozuna for the team lead in home runs with his eighth.  Giovanny Gallegos came in and took care of the ninth without incident.

Sunday (6-4 win)

Hero: Paul Goldschmidt.  We’ve seen Goldschmidt hit home runs but something that has seemed to be lacking is the big base hit that gets a run in at a key time.  We got that on Sunday in the second inning.

The Cards had already tied up the game at 1 earlier in the frame when Kolten Wong had singled in Jose Martinez.  Now, Goldschmidt was up with the bases loaded and two outs.  Again, I know that Goldschmidt has had some big hits, but this is a situation where he’s often had problems this year.  However, this time around he went back up the middle and drove in two runs.  He had another hit later on and is starting to heat up.  Over his last eight games, Goldschmidt is hitting .343 with two home runs and five RBI.  The walks-to-strikeouts (in that span, 3 to 13) isn’t what you’d expect from him but everything else seems to be clicking.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  The only starter without a hit, Carpenter went 0-4 and struck out twice while leaving three men on base.  That snapped a small hitting streak (three games) that he had gone as he continues to try to climb out of the hole he’s started this season with.  At least it’s not as deep as last season’s.

Notes: Dakota Hudson allowed three home runs (well, as Tara said last night on Gateway, two with an asterisk given Dexter Fowler’s assist to Noah Syndergaard) but limited the damage otherwise and survived five innings to get his first win as a starter.  I’m not sure if that performance gives me confidence that Hudson should stay in the rotation, but there’s not another option that’s immediately ready for insertion so he’ll get another shot this weekend against the Reds.  (Given Hudson’s numbers against lefties, perhaps there should be a explicit content warning when Joey Votto faces him.)  Maybe Hudson will modify and adjust.  We can only hope.

Andrew Miller also continues to be a bit of an enigma.  He came in during the sixth and walked the lefty that he faced first, then got the righty J.D. Davis to end the inning.  He stayed in the game and struck out Pete Alonso (who had crushed a home run off of Hudson in the first) and Robinson Cano, who did so much damage Friday night.  Then, facing the left-handed Michael Conforto, he gave up a home run.  Overall, he’s still doing better against lefties than righties but a month into this and there’s still a ton of inconsistency.  About the time it seems things have clicked, a game like this happens.  However, there’s not much else you can do but ride it out.

Goldschmidt had the only multi-hit day but Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler both had doubles against Syndergaard, who wound up allowing six runs (four earned) in five innings.  This Cardinal offense has shown that they can get to anyone and right now are doing so pretty regularly.  The Cards are fifth in the majors and third in the NL (only one run shy of tying the Phillies for second) in runs and are averaging almost five and a half runs per game.  It’s nice not to have to worry too much about whether the bats will be quiet or not.  If the pitching holds, there aren’t going to be too many extended losing streaks.

Speaking of extended losing, the Brewers come into town for three games starting tonight.  Remarkably, they sit in third (by the percentage points noted above) and actually are a .500 team if you factor out their games against St. Louis.  I am very interested to see if a change in scenery changes the results significantly, especially when it comes to Christian Yelich (though him having a multi-homer game this weekend shows that he actually can hit everyone).  I feel like it will and I think the Cards may put some distance between them and the Brew Crew this week.  We shall see!

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